Push grows for direct route from UC Merced to downtown

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comNovember 13, 2012 

— A petition to establish an express bus route between the University of California at Merced and downtown has drawn about 150 signatures from students, faculty and local residents.

Over recent weeks, Main Street hot spot Coffee Bandits hosted the petition, which was drafted by Jordan Cowman, an assistant animal technician for the office of research at UC Merced.

Cowman, 24, who's involved in the downtown theater and arts community, said he'd like to see more students included in local events.

"We run events, poetry nights, open-mic nights, concerts, movie nights, what have you," he said. "And there's a serious lack of students. If it were easier for students to get downtown, they might attend these things and participate more often."

Melissa Eisner, Coffee Bandits co-owner, said she supports the effort. "It would be good for us. It would be good for anyone downtown. More transportation, more communication is definitely a good thing."

The petition calls for a "reliable, fast and direct" bus route from UC Merced to downtown. It also states: "The lack of a direct transportation route impedes accessibility and communication between the two communities."

Cowman met Tuesday with the Transportation and Parking Advisory Committee, which reports to the vice chancellor of administration.

"Everyone's been very receptive so far," he said. "Right after Thanksgivings is when I think we're going to discuss it next."

The university is currently studying demand for the bus service, said Patti Waid, spokeswoman for the university.

"If you provide more services, will demand go up to offset the cost?" she said. "There isn't much ridership on the busses that go downtown in the evening. If you don't have enough riders you don't have enough money to offset the cost."

Students have voiced frustration with the bus service, which can take between 30 minutes and an hour to get from campus to Main Street. At the same time, many have expressed interest in a direct service to the city center.

"Right now, because it takes so long, students are not really inclined to go downtown," said Juan Estrada, a 19-year-old sophomore. "Having an express bus would be pretty awesome."

Melissa Renteria, a 19-year-old sophomore with a car, said she and her friends go downtown for the movie theater and nearby coffee shops. Last year, she said she lived on campus and like most freshmen, couldn't get a parking permit.

"Last year, we would use the bus to go downtown, but it would be only twice a month because it takes too long to get there," she said.

Tyler Elliott, a 19-year-old sophomore who lives on campus, said he regularly uses the bus to get downtown on the weekends. "It takes longer than if you had your own car but it's bearable, I guess."

Having a direct bus to downtown could encourage students to get involved in local culture, but it's one of several factors, Waid said. "Maybe it's transportation options, as well as an awareness of what there is to do both downtown and throughout the city of Merced."

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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